OSIRIS-REx Sample Collection

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OSIRIS-REx mission and Sample Collection

The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) mission is the first U.S.-led asteroid sample return mission. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched on September 8, 2016. Prior to launch the mission already included sample curation, contamination control, and contamination knowledge activities to protect and enhance the scientific value of the collection.

The spacecraft journeyed to the near Earth asteroid 101955 Bennu and rendezvoused with the asteroid on December 3, 2018. Bennu was selected because of its dark appearance and potentially organics- and volatiles-rich nature, which means it was likely to preserve these components from the earliest part of the history of the solar system. After extensive study of the asteroid surface and consideration of potential sampling sites, on October 20, 2020 the spacecraft used its touch-and-go sample acquisition mechanism (TAGSAM) to collect a sample from the Nightingale sample site. After collection (called "tag" for the touch-and-go feature of the sampling method), the TAGSAM was observed to have sample wedging open the flap of the sampler head. The TAGSAM head was stowed early in the sample return capsule (SRC) to minimize loss of sample.

The spacecraft left Bennu on May 8, 2021 to begin its journey back to Earth. On September 24, 2023, the spacecraft released the SRC, which landed by parachute at the Utah Test & Training Range (UTTR). The SRC was retrieved from its landing site and taken to a temporary cleanroom set up at UTTR for initial de-integration, which included attaching a nitrogen gas flow purge to the sample canister which held the TAGSAM sampler head. The sample canister was flown from Utah to Houston with this nitrogen gas flow protecting the sample inside the canister. The sample canister and, subsequently, the TAGSAM head were disassembled in nitrogen-atmosphere gloveboxes located in an ISO 5 cleanroom specifically designed and built for protection of the OSIRIS-REx samples.

The OSIRIS-REx flight collection includes a little over 120 grams of returned asteroid samples, plus SRC/TAGSAM hardware components, witness plates, and contact pads. In addition, an OSIRIS-REx non-flight collection for contamination knowledge was assembled throughout the spacecraft assembly, testing, and launch phase of the mission and has continued into the sample curation phase.

For more details please visit https://science.nasa.gov/mission/osiris-rex/